December 18, 2017 – It’s amazing how quickly our plans can change when we’re travelling. This morning when we woke up in our cool tiled room in Togo’s sandy seaside capital Lome, we had every intention of eating a lesiurely breakfast and then going to nearby Lac Togo. But instead, not three hours later we found ourselves in another country altogether – we were back in Ghana.
We’d spent a couple of days in Lome, checking out the tumultuous markets and broad palm-lined boulevards in the hot sunshine.
In some parts of the city the dusty dirt roads and buildings seemed to be slowly collapsing in the unrelenting heat.
We went to a Fetish Market. Not the kind of fetish you’re thinking of, it wasn’t a market specialising in say, foot-fetishes or rubber suits – but rather one that sells amulets and powders and dried up dead animals and bones for voodoo ceremonies, voodoo being a prominent religion here:
It was really just a tourist trap (an ambitious one, considering there are very few tourists here to ensnare) but there were some interesting charms. Like this amulet, which you can wear to prevent being poisoned:
It only protects against poisoning – not against being shot, or stabbed, or anything else. We know because we asked. Another one we both liked was this charm, for protecting travellers:
Before leaving home you should speak into the little hole, advising the spirits about what you’re up to. Then you close up the hole with the peg and off you go, safe in the knowledge that you’re now invincible. Maybe this security is why people drive the way that they do.
During the day we ate at ‘maquis’ – little streetside eateries like this one, serving riz au gras and other variations of rice and sauce:
Eating in local places is pretty much hit and miss for us, as we can’t be sure what we’re getting. Even when we know it’s ‘rice, fish and spinach’ for example, something else often seems to find its way in (like okra, cooked into a slimy phleghm-like consistency):
And of course, we quickly learned our latest new name: ‘Yovo’. It’s an all-purpose term for a white person and everywhere we go, and everything we do, is to the endless accompaniment of kids chanting ‘Yovo Yovo Bon Soir’.
Lome is one of the few African cities I like better at night – when the hustle and bustle and vendors and hawkers of the daytime fade away, and the people who’ve been hiding from the heat all day come out. The area where we stayed was safe to roam around after dark, and there are a few good French restaurants. There’s also a great Lebanese grocery store nearby selling French wine and hosting a bakery with crepes, croissants, and good coffee. It’s clearly a mecca for ex-pats who seem to congregate there and I can’t say I blame them. Sometimes nothing is better than an air-conditioned supermarket.
But we needed to pick up one more visa, for Togo’s other next door neighbor, so early on Monday morning we went looking for Benin’s embassy. And I mean, we really went looking: embassies in this part of the world seem to move around inexplicably and in our experience they are rarely to be found at their last-known-address. Armed with an address we thought might be right, we flagged down two moto-taxis and as usual it was up to Oyv to direct the bikes around the madness of yet another African city with the GPS.
Eventually we found the address we were looking for and sure enough, the embassy was no longer at it. Our frustrated drivers groaned and slumped over the handlebars, visibly distraught at being stuck somewhere in Lome with two English-speaking Yovos on their hands. Luckily, a man standing outside sweeping the street seemed to know the new location and explained it in great detail to our two unwilling accomplices.
Back on the bikes, we darted into traffic and drove until we ended up just a couple of streets over from our own guesthouse. This is now the Consulate for Benin in Lome:
We went upstairs, down a dimly lit corridor past a man sleeping on the floor, and into an otherwise empty office where a woman sat scowling behind a desk. When we told her we wanted visas to visit Benin her scowl only deepened as though we’d personally offended her. She showed us on her calendar that it was a five day wait until we could get the visas in our passports. Now we were scowling too – we wanted those visas today. We wanted to go to the lake and after that, straight to the border and into Benin. We certainly didn’t want to see the scowling woman again either.
We sat down in our new favourite supermarket for a coffee and went over our options. We’d read and heard conflicting information as to whether we could just buy the visa when we showed up at the border. We’d asked around and gotten a different answer every time, including two different answers from the same person.
So instead of going to the lake, we decided we’d just go to Ghana and pick the visa up at the Benin Embassy there. We didn’t have much time if we wanted to cross the border, make it all the way to the embassy before they shut, and get back into Togo again all in the same day.
We went back to our guesthouse and threw our daypacks on the bed. We packed whatever we thought we’d need on a mad dash into another country – passports; toothbrushes and swim suits (maybe we’d stay overnight, who knows – plans do change); all our cash in four different currencies; the computer and camera; malaria meds; and a ream of photocopies and other visa-related paperwork.
Leaving everything else behind in our two big backpacks, we grabbed our motorcycle helmets and went out into the street. On two more motos we zipped out of Lome and the short distance to the border.
This was a big, busy and noisy crossing with taxis and motos screetching past and people milling around in every direction, many of them hissing and pssssssting at us in an effort to attach themselves to us as unhelpful and unwanted guides. We processed the Togo side and walked to the post for Ghana, where we were stamped back into the country we’d left just days before.
We negotiated with a cab to take us straight into Accra. The driver, Issac, assured us he knew the embassy’s location and he evidently interpreted our urgency as an invitation to drive like hell (let’s be honest, he was probably going to drive like hell either way). He battled traffic agressively, spending much of the trip overtaking every vehicle in sight or else just speeding up the middle of the road stradling two lanes. As it turns out Issac was not lying – he actually deposited us right outside the doors of Benin’s embassy. And miraculously, just an hour later we were back in the car, visas in hand. Issac drove just as recklessly back to the border, although he took an hour’s respite at a mechanic to get the broken back window fixed.
This lengthy delay didn’t stop Issac from badgering us for a ‘gift’ before dropping us off, plus an attempt to blame the broken back window on Oyv (who had merely pressed the button to open it, when it fell down entirely inside of the door and disappeared). As we parted ways the irrepressible Issac gave us his card, I suppose in case we are ever in Ghana again, commit some kind of crime, and need to make a fast getaway.
We crossed the Ghana border for the second time that day and came back into Togo. Mission accomplished: we had our visas after all and we were back in Lome, all in one day. And we did make it to Lac Togo after all – just not quite according to ‘plan’.